Table of Contents
ALSO BY LINDA FAIRSTEIN
The Bone Vault
Likely to Die
Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape
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First printing, March 2010
Copyright © 2010 by Fairstein Enterprises, LLC All rights reserved
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LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA
Fairstein, Linda A.
Hell gate / by Linda Fairstein.
eISBN : 978-1-101-18600-8
1. Cooper, Alexandra (Fictitious character)—Fiction. 2. Public prosecutors—Fiction. 3. Human trafficking—Fiction. 4. New York (N.Y.)—Fiction. 5. Women lawyers—Fiction. I. Title.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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To the women and men of the special victims units of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD—past and present—who have always worked on the side of the angels . . .
with respect and gratitude
Resignedly beneath the sky
the melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
death looks gigantically down.
EDGAR ALLAN POE, “The City in the Sea”
“How many bodies?”
“Six, Ms. Cooper. So far we got six dead. But there’s a mean rip and a swift current out there. Anybody’s guess what’s going to wash up by the end of the day.”
I was walking toward the ocean behind a cop sent to escort me from my car, following him on the path that had been formed in the dunes by the first responders who had tracked across it two hours earlier, at daybreak.
“One woman?” I asked.
“What?” The cop cupped his hand to his ear as he turned to look at me. The gust of wind that blew a clump of damp sand against the side of my face also carried off my words.
“The news is reporting that one of the victims is a young woman.”
“We got two now. Girls, really. Teenagers at best. Four men and two girls.”
I stopped at the crest of the dune and scanned the horizon. Dozens of police officers were scattered along a quarter mile of beach, their blue uniforms a deeper color than the rough Atlantic. Detectives in windbreakers and all-weather jackets looked slightly less incongruous in this unlikely setting, some scouring the shoreline while others gathered around the survivors who had been brought to land.
“That’s it,” the cop said, pointing at the rusted freighter that was grounded on a sandbar about three hundred yards out to sea, listing to port, as police launches and Coast Guard boats darted around it. “
That’s the name of the ship they sailed on.”
my ass,” Mike Chapman said, coming up beside me, adjusting his sunglasses as he spoke. “It must have been the crossing from hell. Happy New Year, Coop.”
“Same to you, Mike. Although this doesn’t get it off to a particularly pleasant start.”
“I got her from here, pal,” Mike said, dismissing the cop. “You warm enough?”
“I’m fine. Battaglia called me at home this morning,” I said, referring to my boss, the district attorney of New York County. “Did you just arrive?”
We were both dressed in jeans. I had a cashmere sweater under my ski jacket, with gloves and a scarf to protect myself against the brisk January day. Mike wore a white turtleneck beneath his trademark navy blazer. The winter cold never bothered him, any more than the sight of a corpse.
“Nope. Human trafficking—you don’t get worse scumbags than the guys who deal in flesh. All the squads got called in right away. Every borough,” he said. “I was doing a midnight so I shot out here from a crack den in Harlem. Just went back to the car now to get my shades. The glare on the water’s a killer.”
Mike was one of the best detectives in the city, assigned to Manhattan North Homicide, which handled every case from Fifty-ninth Street to the northern tip of the island. We’d been professional partners—and close friends—for more than a decade.
“Where do you want to start?” he asked me. People were swarming across the beach like armies of insects. “The tent over there to the left on that paved area—that’s the temporary morgue. The group in the middle, we’ve got more than a hundred victims off the wreck so far, trying to get them in dry clothes. The commissioner is due in by chopper any minute now.”
“Who’s in charge?” I asked.
“Feebies, kid. The feds are running the operation. Your buddy from the task force, Donovan Baynes. His group is trying to set up a command center on the right. Hardest thing,” Mike said, starting down the slope, “is holding the press at bay. Roping them off on the street is easy, but keeping the helicopters and power boats away is more of a problem, now that news has spread. C’mon.”
“Take me to Baynes, okay?”
“Battaglia doesn’t let go, I’ll give him that. Rockaway Beach—the Irish Riviera—this is Queens, for Chrissake. That parking lot where the morgue is, it’s over the line in Nassau County. What makes him think he has jurisdiction here?” Mike’s loafers made a crunching sound as they pounded the sand while we toured the scene. His straight black hair, gleaming in the sunlight, was blowing wildly as he walked into the wind.
“Global and mobile. That’s how he likes to think of himself. He’s been DA for so long he doesn’t believe there’s anything that limits him,” I said. “That’s why he fought so hard to get me on the task force.”
Human trafficking, a modern-day form of slavery, wasn’t even on the books until federal laws addressing it were enacted in 2000. Before that, prosecutors had patched together local legislation to attempt to punish the handful of individuals who could be linked to efforts to transport victims across borders, coercing them to work at everything from agricultural labor to child prostitution.